August 2, 2007

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Golden Door (PG-13)
An Italian man and his children and a strange woman from England slowly coalesce into a family as they travel from Sicily to Ellis Island at the turn of the last century in Golden Door, a movie known elsewhere as Nuovomondo.

“New World” (a translation for the Italian nuovomondo) is a more straightforward title than Golden Door and gives you the gist of the movie — a boatful of characters travel to the new world, which 1900-something America still was to the residents of rural Sicily.

Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) decides to take his sons Angelo (Francesco Casisa) and Pietro (Filippo Luna) and his extremely reluctant, suspicious mother Fortunata (Aurora Quattrochi) to America to find his brother and a new life. He is joined on part of the journey from his village by two girls who have been promised rich, handsome and young American husbands. Once he gets to the docks, another woman hovers around the group — a red-headed English woman named Lucy Reed (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Her presence at the docks and on the massive ship headed west for New York offers the passengers plenty to speculate and gossip about — is she a spurned woman looking for a way into America? Is she royalty? She spends some of her time hanging out with Don Luigi (Vincent Schiavelli), whose never-defined but shady-seeming business might have something to do with finding pretty women traveling alone men who will claim them as their fiancées when the women reach New York, a necessary part of the women’s being allowed into the country. But Lucy also hangs around Salvatore, who doesn’t quite know what to make of her but finds himself feeling protective of her. Fortunata is openly hostile to Lucy (but then, she’s openly hostile to most people and things) and extremely trepidacious about what the new world will mean for her family, especially for Pietro, who doesn’t talk.

The story of this small band of immigrants seems fairly secondary to the act of immigrating itself. If you’ve ever seen The Godfather: Part II, you’ll remember that a small slice of that movie followed more or less the same path as this one, with a young Vito Corleone (so young he was still Vito Andolini) traveling from Sicily alone to Ellis Island. We see the Ellis Island official misread his name and change Andolini to Corleone, the name of the town the boy comes from. We see him poked by doctors and sent to a room to wait.

Golden Door takes this sequence and stretches it nearly two hours. We get more ship, more Ellis Island, more medical and mental tests, more of the uncertainty and disappointment of the old-fashioned mail-order brides. More of what it means when the golden door to America is opened and all these Italians and Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians and Irish stepped through it and became part of the new world.

Golden Door is not The Godfather, it’s not a saga and its action moves at a contemplative pace, as though the movie is waiting for you to take it all in before moving on to the next scene. But it’s fascinating nonetheless, a movie where it’s not bad to let your mind wander to think what the experience it’s describing would have been like if you were living it then (or even now) and what the stream of eager, optimistic immigrants that have always made up the fabric of our country have meant for it. B

Rated PG-13 for brief graphic nudity. Written and directed by Emanuele Crialese, Golden Door is an hour and 52 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Miramax Films. At press time, the movie was playing at the Entertainment Cinemas in Concord and is scheduled for an upcoming run at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.